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Member Name: Essexgirl2006
Blists Hill Victorian Town Heritage Site (Ironbridge Gorge)
Advantages: Good day out for all ages
Disadvantages: Pricey on its own, lot of it weather dependant
I remember visiting here on a school trip about 25 years ago (eek!) and really enjoying it, so on a recent short break in the area we decided to see if it had changed much.
Blists Hill is an open-air 'living' Victorian museum and all the staff are dressed appropriately for the era. It is signposted from the Shropshire town of Ironbridge and there is parking on site. There is a fee for parking, I don't recall the amount but I think it was quite reasonable as your ticket is valid all day in any of the other Ironbridge museum car parks except the Museum of the Gorge (details are at the ticket machine). It is open daily 10am - 4pm. To visit here alone it costs £14.90 which is quite a lot of money. If you have the passport (which is £21.95) you get in free as part of that. The passport allows you entry into nine other museums in the area when they are open (some are seasonal) for a year.
You arrive in a modern reception and gift shop where you can purchase tickets or get your passport checked before going through to the town. There are a few things to look at as you walk through, but we sped up as I needed the loo! Just before you enter the town there is a café offering hot food and sandwiches where we stopped to refuel and use the facilities. Lavatories were clean and well stocked, there were disabled facilities also. We had a jacket potato each with soft drinks.
The town is open air so you need to consider the weather. We went in early January, so although it was dry, it was cold and we re-treated back to the warmth of the car after three hours. Also due to burst pipes some buildings were closed.
One of the first shops you visit in the town is the bank to change your money for Victorian money. They do take 'new' money in the shops nowadays so this isn't strictly necessary, but could be fun if you came here with children. Other shops to visit include a grocers, chemist and haberdashers. There are little things for sale in the shops but a lot of the merchandise is there for historical purposes and authenticity. It is interesting to see the things they have for sale and to see famous brands in 'retro' packaging. The staff who serve in the shop are friendly and well informed and can answer your questions. They are also happy to engage and chat with any children who are there. There is also a post office and the postmistress informed us that there is a museum upstairs. The museum depicts the Royal Mail from it inception to the present day, and isn't specifically orientated in the Victorian era. It is only a small museum but worth a visit.
Other popular places are the pub (draught beer and a few other alcoholic and soft drinks are sold in this small pub), where you can sit down. It is very basic but apparently they have an Old Time Music Hall choir singing here at weekends. I am undecided if it was a good thing or not that we missed it! You can also purchase Fish & Chips in the appropriate shop or visit the sweet shop and buy sweets by weight from a jar. We purchased a gobstopper each for the princely sum of 10p. After the shops you can see a few homes and look at typical bedrooms and living quarters. There is a bakers selling fresh bread baked on the premises, a chatty and informative candlestick maker, a blacksmith and a printer. The printer was also keen to chat to his younger visitors, and talk to them about their future career (when they turned 12) as a printer's apprentice. He also had some printed cards to play word games with them. They also have a photographer where you can dress up in Victorian outfits and pose for sepia toned pictures which you can then purchase. We couldn't find the photographer when we visited, but I am sure I have a picture with my schoolmates lurking in a shoebox somewhere from my previous visit.
There appears to be a fairground here but that was closed due to the weather I think. The schoolhouse and a few other buildings were closed due to the aforementioned burst pipe. I think they normally run a horse and cart for rides but guess that is also seasonal. There are other industrial sites around the town but these didn't seem to be used to their full potential - again this could be due to the weather as it was outdoors. As well as the café by the entrance and the Fish and Chip shop, there is also a tea room for refreshments.
I do recommend Blists Hill for a visit. We were here three hours and only retreated when we did as we were so cold. I think you can easily spend four hours wandering around here, particularly with a family. The site is geared towards learning and children, and as mentioned above, a lot of the staff are happy to engage with younger visitors and tell them stories of Victorian life. Some of them must repeat their anecdotes hundreds of times during the day but they all had a smile on their faces. They are happy to answer questions from adults too! During the warmer months and school holidays there are specific activities organised and I recall visiting on a school outing so presumably this is still the case. I think the individual admission is quite pricey; it is better value in conjunction with the Ironbridge Museum passports, plus they also do a family pass.
Summary: You don't need a time machine to get a flavour of Victorian England
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